An article in National Review has moved me to write this. First of all, unless you are very wealthy it is STUPID to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding. You need to spend that money on buying a house and furniture and setting up your life together not on flowers and expensive venues. Second, all you really need for a wedding are the following: a husband, a wife (now modified if its a gay marriage) a marriage license and a priest or justice of the peace, a witness (in some states). All the rest is bling and party. Really. As a member of the altar guild who attends other peoples weddings as a representative of the church, I've had to repeat these words many times to anxious mothers of the bride and anxious brides. Your marriage Should NOT be founded on what kind of party you have.
Having said that, and as a total party lover, I move on. Of course you want to have a party and dress up for it and have a good time. The last part is the important part. Have a good time. While the bride and groom are the honored guests at t he party, they should plan for it to be fun for those they invite. This means good food, and a comfortable place to eat it.
Rule number three, figure out how many people are important to you and whom you want to be there so share in your founding the most important relationship in your life. Figure out how much you can afford to spend for the food. Divide the latter figure by the former figure. That is the price you should be working with in ordering the food and finding the venue and everything else. You are starting our very badly in life if you cut people out of this experience because you can't afford to buy them the fancy feast you think you need to serve.
Getting these preliminaries out of the way. Here is my advice:
Decide if you want a religious ceremony or someone special to marry you. This is an actual necessity. Having someone to perform the ceremony. The three calendars that are the most important are the two people getting married and the person who is marrying them. If so, consult with that person on the next priority-- time and place. consult with your parents and friends as well. Once you pick a date, stick to it. My preference is a religious ceremony by someone who actually knows the bride and groom. Many religious organizations require a counseling period before the marriage so do this first!!!.
Set a date and Find a place: You need to do this second. You need an address and a time for the wedding invitations and just about everything else. You do not have to be married in a church just because you are having a religious ceremony but it is often convenient and cheap. You need a place for the ceremony and a place for the reception which can both be the same place if you have friends who will help you move the furniture around. Church parish halls are often a good value because they are next to the church, they have chairs and tables and kitchens and people don't have to drive. IF you choose someone's back yard then you need to find a rental agency unless you are planning a very small wedding. Chairs and tables and wedding arches can all be rented. We had my daughter's wedding in a back yard and by the time we had set up the chairs and decorated the wedding arch and made a moveable altar out of someone's butcher block table, we had a very beautiful place. It may sound silly, but one, not very expensive thing we rented really dressed everything up-- white chair covers with gauze ties that matched the wedding colors, made the rows of folding chairs look very elegant for about 2.00 per chair. An arch gives a focal point to the ceremony if it is outdoors and makes the place look very festive. In my experience you can easily decorate it yourself with floral ties, fresh flowers and a lot of tulle all of which you can buy for not too much at floral supply shops. This is a perfect job for the mother, or mother in law or aunts who want to help. Fresh flowers and tulle bows tied to an arch look like wedding and you don't have to have a lot of skill to do it.
DRess: I have helped to plan three weddings recently and have come to the conclusion that David;s Bridal is it. The prices are way more reasonable than most other stores. They have a lot of variety, You can pre-shop for your wedding dress online and have an idea of what's available before you go. For the attendants, they are terrific too. Many, many dresses for under a 100. The best strategy that will make your bridesmaids happy is pick a color (they have quite a variety) and tell your bridesmaids they can pick whichever dress they like in that color. They will really appreciate you for that. It may not be a color they like, but at least they can pick a style they think is flattering. And on your wedding day, the unity of the color will look terrific and the different styles will all seem to blend. And as a bonus, David's Bridal coordinates with Men's WEarhouse so the men can get matching ties or vests. Everyone will coordinate and you will all look terrific and you will not totally bust the budget.
Obviously, it is better if you plan ahead for a long time but a couple of months is plenty of time if you are not dealing with jerks.
Food. Food depends on the place and your pocket book. My best advice is figure out what you would serve to your friends if you were throwing a party and then serve that. For my tastes, buffet is best, whatever the content. It allows people to mingle and talk and move around. It also allows them to select what they like and as much as they like and to sit where they please. All of this seems quite better to me than more formal receptions, but that's me. Yes you want to have a table for the bride and groom so that everyone can come up and shake their hand. for the rest, I say let people make their own seating assignments.
On the food issue-- if you are looking for catered I suggest you go for an ethnic cuisine-- it can be made ahead and delivered hot and tasty for not too much money. Approach a restuarant you like or look at some ofthe chains that do food you like or ask your friends to cook ahead and bring it for the party. All of these approaches can lead to tasty food and fun. But if this is an informal wedding burgers and hot dogs are a great idea too. It's a party to celebrate an important event, not a dress rehearsal for Downton Abbey. Having your party at a church parish hall (depending on the church) or in a backyard can also solve the booze problem. Paying by the drink at a hotel is VERY EXPENSIVE. You can provide a very nice experience in someone's back yard with sodas wine and beer you can buy at Costco for very cheap.
Wedding cake-- probably best to buy it from a bakery and have it delivered the day of. Doesn't have to be fancy. Remember you need a table and stuff for it.
Utensils and such: you can buy nice looking plastic at party supply stores, COSTCO, Walmart, Target and Smart and Final. Or you can rent from a rental place. If you rent, you should hire someone to wash them and put them back in the delivery cartons.
Invitations: You can order them from a printer and wait several weeks and pay a lot or you can buy the fancy blanks at Staples, Target, Office Max, Office Depot and so on and print them on your ink jet printer. They will look very nice, really and will cost you less than a dollar per invite depending on which blanks you choose. Invitations should, ideally, be sent about from 4 to 6 weeks before the wedding. If you are planning far ahead you should send a save the date post card that gives the time and place so people can plan around your date. But you should send a more formal invitation a few weeks before the wedding so they have something in hand to find the place.
Programs for the wedding, same deal -- buy the paper from an office supply store and print them yourselves. Nice looking programs make all the keepsake you need for people to remember your wedding. I mean, seriously, did you save the little doohickeys people handed out at their weddings to remember their weddings? I don't think so.
Photogaraphs. In the age of digital photography you don't have to have a professional take your pictures. I used to be favor of handing out those throw away cameras to people to take pictures but these days, everyone has a camera on their phone. Just ask a couple of your friends to take lots of pictures and give you the disk. But on the day of you need to have a designated picture take for the group pictures. You need someone who not only snaps the photo but rounds bpeople up to pose for the pictures that you will be still looking at 50 years from now. Yeah. Group photos with the whole family will gain value over time and will end up being some of your favorites. So designate a cat herder and ask everyone to cooperate. Must do photos-- bride. Bride and Groom. Bride and Groom and parents. Bride and Groom and wedding party. Bride and Groom and priest or officiant at the wedding. Bride and dad walking down the aisle. Wedding dance. There are a lot of variations. These are the basics. If you have a friend who is a semi pro pay him or her $500 and ask for a disk of the photos. A lot of people will do it for free, but it seems like taking advantage.
Here is one hint I learned from my church and I applaud it greatly. Have everyone come early to the church and take a lot of the shots BEFORE THE WEDDING. Then you will not have to keep your guests waiting for an hour for the party to start.
Flowers: Flowers can cost you a ton of money. Most large urban areas have wholesale flower markets which not only sale fresh flowers but also floral supplies for less than half what you would pay at ordinary retail shops. Bouquest are easy to make if they are kept simple. No one knows six months from now what will be in bloom and reasonably priced on any given day, so you need to stay flexible and select what is available . If you are doing it yourself, or someone is a friend doing it for you. You can buy the flowers the day before and keep the arrangements in vases or such.
I suggest hiring a hair dresser or cosmetologist to come to the church to do everyone's hair but some people discourage that. If you are doing fancy dress, get dressed at the church. That reduces the opportunity for accidents to happen between getting dressed and getting to the wedding. Another hint, from a minister. That little pillow thing that the ring bearer is supposed to carry down the aisle? Tie the rings to it and give it to the wedding coordinator or other responsible adult. Do not give it to the ring bearer until he or she is standing in the aisle of the church ready to walk down it. 6 years olds are not responsible people. Just remember that. Same goes for whatever flowers you give the flower girl.
with help from friends and family and the right attitude you can have a beautiful and memorable wedding and a great party after that will cement your relationship and be a fond memory for less than $5,000. And for most people, that is what they should do. The wedding industrial complex should be for people with lots of money who don't care how they spend it. Not for common folk.